Monday, 23 July 2007

More than 160 masterpieces displayed at a London exhibition have taken the breath of art critics away and left them marveling
at the beauty and richness of the Islamic art.
“My thoughts turned immediately to the magnificent collection of Islamic art I had just seen back in London, at the Ismaili Centre, opposite the V&A. There are manuscripts in this show that took 20 years to paint,” art critic Waldemar Januszczak wrote Sunday, July 22, in the Times of Britain.

Januszczak was referring to the “Spirit & Life” exhibition, which opened at London’s Ismaili Centre on July 14 and runs through August 31.

The London tour is the collection’s first stop on a multi-leg journey that would land the masterpieces finally at the Aga Khan Museum, which will open in Toronto, Canada, in 2010.

Organized by Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Ismaili community, the fair displays Islamic masterpieces spanning from the ninth to the 19th century and collected from India to Morocco.

“There are manuscripts in this show that took 20 years to paint,” said Januszczak.

The art works range from textiles, miniatures and manuscripts, rare Qur’an copies, to figurative oil paintings, musical instruments and ceramics.

The masterpieces reveal the glamour of the Islamic culture.

“There are pieces of jewelry of such impossible intricacy that you cannot believe a human hand could ever have made itself small enough to fashion them,” noted Januszczak.

“In some of the Qur’ans, a single letter took a team of scribes a month to lay down. It was all done for the love of God.”

Among the exhibits is a page from the breathtaking “Blue Qur’an”, made in North Africa and dating back to the 10th Century.

Januszczak said master works like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are dwarfed by this single page of the “Blue Qur’an.”

“The difference between all these and the Blue Koran is that they are easy to date, while this startling piece of 10th-century Islamic minimalism might have been finished yesterday,” he said.

Great Art

Organizers hope the exhibition will clear misconceptions that Islam was poor in art and creativity.

Some of the audience admired a miniature of a poet, many highly decorated musical instruments and countless paintings of people playing on musical instruments.

“Music was an integral part of our culture,” Alnoor Merchant, the curator of the collection at London’s Ismaili Centre told the BBC.

“The notion that music was not allowed is a fallacy. Music and gamesmanship were a part of normal life.”

Aga Khan, owner of the unique collection, said the exhibition is dedicated to change the way people think about Islam.

“The essential problem, as I see it, in relations between the Muslim world and the West is a clash of ignorance,” the spiritual leader of nearly 15 million Ismaili Muslims living in some 25 countries around the globe, said in a recent speech.

He hopes that his collection will be an opportunity to open a dialogue and foster cultural understanding.

Merchant agreed that the exhibition has revealed dramatically the considerable lack of knowledge of the Muslim world in many Western societies.

“This exhibition seeks to show that Islam has a heritage that is a shared legacy,” he said.

“It is not about killing and suicide bombings.”

AMSI Net- Islamonline

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